Sunday, April 18, 2010

Celebrate!!

Manuscript of the sermon I preached this Sunday @ Christ the King, Wilbraham.  Enjoy!!


Often the purpose of a sermon is to explain a detailed theological concept based on the day’s readings or perhaps to invite us to deeply explore an aspect of our faith. Whatever its purpose might be, a sermon can often get complicated, frequently trying to explain a somewhat nuanced message. In stark contrast however, I think the message of today’s readings is a refreshingly simple one: let go of your perceived limitations! Celebrate where you are! In this joyous season of Easter celebrate the glory of the risen Christ! Celebrate God’s work that has been done… and celebrate God’s many blessings! Even if everything isn’t perfect, know that in Christ, anything is possible… and celebrate that fact! Whether it’s in our own lives, the life of the congregation here at Christ the King or the life of the wider church, it’s important to recognize both the positives and negatives of life, both past and present. Recognizing past missteps allows us to release and grow past them; celebrating God’s continued triumph through our lives brings greater clarity to some of the amazing opportunities God’s calling us to.
 
Next Sunday marks the completion of my immersion experience, and while there’s still a week to go, I’ve already begun to reflect on the invaluable experiences I’ve had and the amazing people I’ve met at Christ the King. The major goal of any Project Connect immersion experience is to help people decide whether or not they are called to ordained ministry… and I’m happy to say that you guys haven’t scared me away! In fact, my time spent here has completely reaffirmed my sense of call and I’m extremely excited about my future… things are going great, there’s certainly a lot to celebrate, and it’s in part thanks to all of you.
 
As I continue to reflect on my time here and celebrate my successes however, it’s also important to recognize that this period of discernment didn’t always look so great. In particular I have a crystal clear memory of one night this past September. I was sitting by the water at York Beach in Maine, about half an hour from where I was still living in New Hampshire, and reflecting with a close friend about how scared I was of the future. I had decided to leave Thrivent Financial for Lutherans about a month earlier to work in a job that would allow more time for me to actively discern whether or not I wanted to go into ministry… and my careful crafted plan for that period of transition had completely failed. After many expensive car repairs and dealing with a job market that was even worse than I expected, I was facing the issue of being nearly broke with no job. With my apartment lease soon up, I was also dealing with the prospect that I’d have to move back to dad’s house, something that I felt pretty ashamed of at the time. I was really beginning to doubt my decision to leave my well paying job with Thrivent, and more importantly I thought I had many personal limitations that wouldn’t allow me to be the great pastor I wanted to be.
 
Looking back on it, that evening was one of those rare turning points in life… standing on the edge of a sort of spiritual precipice I was presented with one of two options. I could easily step back from the edge, give into my perceived limitations, and follow that all too human need for comfort in what’s familiar… or I could celebrate who I was, have some faith in God’s call, and take that leap into a future of amazing opportunity.

I don’t think of that story as at all unique to me however… we all have those moments in life. We all have our own “road to Damascus moments”, where much like Saul, as we let go of our perceived limitations, the scales fall from our eyes, allowing us to celebrate… who we are. Only with that recognition and celebration of who we are can we step into the amazing future God is calling us to. In today’s gospel story, even after seeing all the amazing miracles of God’s love through Jesus, Peter still had denied Him… Peter stepped back from that spiritual precipice and just went fishing. Unlike some of the other gospels, there’s no definitive timeline in the Gospel of John… we really don’t know how long Peter went back to the comfortable familiarity of fishing. However long it was though, in Jesus, God still met Peter where he was… whether it is was four weeks after the crucifixion or four years. Sometimes in our lives, or in the life of our congregation, we might be right up on that spiritual precipice and decide to step back… and sometimes I think God might be calling us to do that too. We still should take the time let go of our perceived limitations, celebrate God’s very real achievements through us… but then rest in that joyful celebration. And even if we’re not following God’s call by stepping back from that spiritual precipice… through faith we know that God’s still going to meet us wherever we are.

Going quickly back to the example of my own life, while I may have taken that leap of faith six months back, I have no intention to do so again for at least the next few months… soon after I’m done here at Christ the King I’ll be heading back up to Camp Calumet for my eighth full summer on staff. After taking a leap and having a period of extreme turbulence in my life, I think it’s really important to celebrate what God’s achieved in me with the people I care most about. That doesn’t mean I won’t experience any new challenges at all this summer or that I won’t still be working hard… far from it, as I finally found out I’ll be running the Counselor in Training program for the first time… but it does mean I’ll be recharging for what’s ahead of me at seminary in the fall… and that’s what in the end celebrating is really all about. Whether we step back from that spiritual precipice or not, recognizing and celebrating who we are allows us to know why we’re stepping back… are we stepping back from God’s call because we’re afraid of the future or are we stepping back to recharge for what God really is calling us to do next?

During the children’s moment today, we took some time to recognize and say thanks for the many ministries you’re all a part of at Christ the King… to celebrate all the good stuff God has going on here. I imagine you may be wondering why it was decided to do so. Here’s why: I made it a major goal for myself over the past few months to take in as much information as possible from everyone here and in doing so I wanted to provide some legitimate outside perspective of congregational life at Christ the King. Through many talks over dinner, conversations during coffee hour or time spent at adult forums, a few common narratives seemed to develop. First, I heard how the congregation had come a long way over the past few years and how a lot of tough stuff has been successfully worked out. Second, I heard a lot about how while things were in general going good at Christ the King, there were still a lot of challenges: how there was a budget deficit, how there were more jobs than people to fill them, etc. Third, I also heard about what some of the strengths of the congregation were: a great music program, and great ability to welcome guests, and of course a great pastor.

There were two things I didn’t hear however that sort of surprised me: first, what I perceived as your greatest strength wasn’t often mentioned. As I look out at the congregation today seeing all your smiling or perhaps bored faces… it’s been a long sermon, it’s easy to realize that everyone I see here is actively participating in one of the many ministries of Christ the King. Everyone’s doing something! At least compared to the other congregations I know of, that’s a really incredible thing and I think its something to be recognized and celebrated.

Second, while I heard about many amazing individual ministries here, I don’t think I really heard a general sense about what was next… where God was calling the congregation to use its many gifts. It might be that Christ the King is called to celebrate the successes of recent years and rest in that celebration… or it might be that you’re on that spiritual precipice and God is calling you to soon take that next leap of faith. I myself have no idea what’s next for everyone here, but I do know there’s should be one common denominator: recognize your gifts and celebrate where you are… you deserve it! God’s peace.

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